50 Years on from 1968
It's been fifty years since the global revolts of 1968, when the existing order seemed on the brink of collapse and radical movements shook society around the world, from France, Mexico, Japan, Cape Town, and Palestine, to the US, UK, and Algeria. As we look back on the rich history of activism from the late 60s, what can we learn from the strategies and tactics of these movements, and how do we move forward to transform today's society in an era of entrenched capitalism that was unimaginable in the radical 60s?
With new books from Donald Reid, new editions of classics from Tariq Ali and Max Elbaum, and important works from Angela Davis, Daniel Bensaïd, Sheila Rowbotham, and Henri Lefebvre, there's plenty to inspire a new generation of activists continuing the struggle.
All books on our 1968 reading list are 50% off until Sunday, May 20 at 11:59pm EST.
See all of our 1968-related reading here.
The sixties were a time when radical movements learned to embrace twentieth-century Marxism. Revolution in the Air is the definitive study of this turning point, and examines what the resistance of today can learn from the legacies of Lenin, Mao and Che.
Urgently relevant to current arguments about the crisis of austerity, the 1968 manifesto set out a new agenda for socialist Britain, after the failure of the postwar consensus. It sought to change the nature of the state, to drive a wedge between finance and empire, to stress the importance of a planned economy for all, and to detach Britain from the imperial goals to which it had long been committed. Today, the spirit of The May Day Manifesto offers a road map to a brighter future.
What makes a young radical? Reissued to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of 1968, Street Fighting Years captures the mood and energy of an era of hope and passion as Tariq Ali tracks the growing significance of the 1960s protest movement, as well as his own formation as a leading political activist. This edition includes the famous interview conducted by Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn with John Lennon and Yoko Ono In 1971.
It would take William F. Pepper, attorney and friend of King, thirty years to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that changed the course of American history. In 1999, the King family, represented by the author, brought a civil action lawsuit against Loyd Jowers and other co-conspirators. Seventy witnesses set out the details of a plot that involved J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the US military, the Memphis police, and organized crime. The jury took an hour to find for the King family. Now fifty years after MLK’s execution, An Act of State demonstrates the bloody depths to which the US government will descend to repress a movement for change.
In 1973, faced with massive layoffs, workers at the legendary Lip watch firm in Besançon, France, occupied their factory to demand that no one lose their job. They seized watches and watch parts, assembled and sold watches, and paid their own salaries. Their actions recaptured the ideals of May 1968, when 11 million workers had gone on strike to demand greater autonomy and to overturn the status quo.
In his riveting account of these events, first written in 1970, Tariq Ali offers an eyewitness perspective on history, showing that this powerful popular movement was the only successful moment of the 1960s revolutionary wave. The victory led to the very first democratic election in the country and the unexpected birth of a new state, Bangladesh.
It was 1969, and temperatures were rising across the factories of the north as workers demanded better pay and conditions. Soon, discontent would erupt in what became known as Italy’s “Hot Autumn.” Wrought in spare and measured prose, Balestrini’s novel depicts an explosive uprising. Introduced by Rachel Kushner, the author of the best-selling The Flamethrowers, We Want Everything is the incendiary fictional account of events that led to a decade of revolt.
The path from the joyous explosion of May 1968, through the painful experience of defeat in Latin America and the world-shaking collapse of the USSR, to the neoliberal world of today, dominated as it is by global finance, is narrated in An Impatient Life with Bensaïd’s characteristic elegance of phrase and clarity of vision. His memoir relates a life of ideological and practical struggle, a never-resting endeavour to comprehend the workings of capitalism in the pursuit of revolution.
Revolution in the Revolution? is a brilliant, pragmatic assessment of the situation in Latin America in the 1960s. First published in 1967, it became a controversial handbook for guerrilla warfare and revolution, read alongside Che’s own pamphlets, and remains fully as important as the writings of Guevara. Lucid and compelling, it spares no personage, no institution, and no concept, taking on not only Russian and Chinese strategies but Trotskyism as well.
One of America’s most historic political trials is undoubtedly that of Angela Davis. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Davis, and including contributions from numerous radicals such as Black Panthers George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins, this book is not only an account of Davis’s incarceration and the struggles surrounding it, but also perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough analysis of the prison system of the United State.
In May 1968, France stood on the verge of full-blooded revolution. Here a rhythmic, vivid evocation from eyewitness Angelo Quattrocchi is complemented by Tom Nairn’s cool and elegant appraisal to tell the astonishing story of those heady days. Paris is a seething battlefield of barricades, burning cars and CS gas. De Gaulle’s riot police publicly inform him that their loyalty can no longer be taken for granted. Meanwhile students and millions of young striking workers on the streets raise ideas that had previously been the sole province of radical philosophers: “To forbid is forbidden”; “Be reasonable ... Demand the impossible”; “Freedom is the consciousness of our desires.”
This dramatic and extensively researched book breathes new life into the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. It portrays his revolutionary struggle through the appropriate medium of the underground political comic—one of the most prominent countercultural art forms since the 1960s.
Originally published in 1978, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman caused a storm of controversy. Michele Wallace blasted the masculine biases of the black politics that emerged from the sixties. She described how women remained marginalized by the patriarchal culture of Black Power, demonstrating the ways in which a genuine female subjectivity was blocked by the traditional myths of black womanhood.
Who were the Frankfurt School—Benjamin, Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer—and why do they matter today? Grand Hotel Abyss combines biography, philosophy, and storytelling to reveal how the Frankfurt thinkers gathered in hopes of understanding the politics of culture during the rise of fascism.
Over fifty years after the Situationist International appeared, its legacy continues to inspire activists, artists and theorists around the world. Such a legend has accrued to this movement that the story of the SI now demands to be told in a contemporary voice capable of putting it into the context of twenty-first-century struggles.
At once an extraordinary counter history of radical praxis and a call to arms in the age of financial crisis and the resurgence of the streets, The Spectacle of Disintegration recalls the hidden journeys taken in the attempt to leave the twentieth century, and plots an exit from the twenty first.
This classic book provides a historical overview of feminist strands among the modern revolutionary movements of Russia, China and the Third World. Sheila Rowbotham shows how women rose against the dual challenges of an unjust state system and social-sexual prejudice. Women, Resistance and Revolution is an invaluable historical study, as well as a trove of anecdote and example fit to inspire today’s generation of feminist thinkers and activists.
What happens when angry young rebels become wary older women, raging in a leaner, meaner time: a time which exalts only the “new,” when the ruling orthodoxy daily disparages everything associated with the “old”? Delving into her own life and those who left their mark on it, Lynne Segal journeys through time to consider her generation of female dreamers, the experiences that formed them, what they have left to the world, and how they are remembered in a period when pessimism pervades public life.
Black rebellion has returned. Dramatic protests have risen up in scores of cities and campuses; there is renewed engagement with the history of Black radical movements and thought. Here, key intellectuals—inspired by the new movements and by the seminal work of the scholar Cedric J. Robinson—recall the powerful tradition of Black radicalism while defining new directions for the activists and thinkers it inspires.
The three-volume text by Henri Lefebvre is perhaps the richest, most prescient work about modern capitalism to emerge from one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers and is now available for the first time in one complete volume. Written at the birth of post-war consumerism, Critique was an inspiration for the 1968 student revolution in France. It is a founding text of cultural studies and a major influence on the fields of contemporary philosophy, geography, sociology, architecture, political theory and urbanism.
Until the political ferment of the Long Sixties, there were no Asian Americans. There were only isolated communities of mostly Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos lumped together as “Orientals.” Serve the People tells the story of the social and cultural movement that knit these disparate communities into a political identity, the history of how—and why—the double consciousness of Asian America came to be.
This deeply researched account, twenty-five years in the making, traces the evolution of disruptive protest since the Sixties to tell a larger story about the reshaping of the American left. Kauffman, a longtime grassroots organizer, examines how movements from ACT UP to Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter have used disruptive tactics to catalyze change despite long odds.
Bombing its way into the headlines of the early 1970s, the Weather Underground was one of the most dramatic symbols of the anger felt by young Americans opposed to the US presence in Vietnam. Mauled in street battles with the Chicago police during the Days of Rage demonstrations, Weather concluded that traditional political protest was insufficient to end the war. They turned instead to underground guerrilla combat.
The extended critical interview is especially flexible as a form, by turns tenacious and glancing, elliptical or sustained, combining argument and counter-argument, reflection, history and memoir with a freedom normally denied to its subjects in conventional writing formats. Lives on the Left brings together sixteen such interviews from New Left Review in a group portrait of intellectual engagement in the twentieth century and since.
Building on an analysis of the dissenting movements to have emerged since the rise of modern capitalism, Anti-Systemic Movements uncovers an international groundswell of resistance still vitally active at the end of the twentieth century. The authors suggest that the new assertiveness of the South, the development of class struggle in the East and the emergence of rainbow coalitions in various regions hold fresh promise for emancipatory politics. Taking the year 1968 as a symbolic turning point, the authors argue that new anti-systemic movements have arisen which challenge the logic of the capitalist world-system.
AVAILABLE IN THE UK ONLY
An international bestseller, originally published in 1970, when Shulamith Firestone was just twenty-five years old, The Dialectic of Sex was the first book of the women’s liberation movement to put forth a feminist theory of politics.
Eric Hazan takes the reader on a walk from Ivry to Saint-Denis, roughly following the meridian that divides Paris into east and west, and passing such familiar landmarks as the Luxembourg Gardens, the Pompidou Centre, the Gare du Nord and Montmartre, as well as forgotten alleyways and arcades. Weaving historical anecdotes, geographical observations, and literary references, Hazan’s walk guides us through an unknown Paris. With the aid of maps, he delineates the most fascinating and forgotten parts of the city’s past and present.
In the history of European revolutions, the barricade stands as a glorious emblem. Its symbolic importance arises principally from the barricades of Eric Hazan’s native Paris, where they were instrumental in the revolts of the nineteenth century, helping to shape the political life of a continent.
Mike Marqusee argues that Ali was not only a boxer but a remarkable political figure in a decade of tumultuous change. Playful, popular, always confrontational, Ali refashioned the role of a political activist and was central, alongside figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, to the black liberation and the anti-war movements. Marqusee shows that sport and politics were always intertwined, and this is the reason why Ali remained an international beacon of hope, long after he had left the ring.
The student protests of 1968, followed by the Hot Autumn factory strikes of 1969, shook the foundations of the Italian Republic. They also prepared the way for a whole decade of intense and widespread social conflict—a decade in which militant social movements arose with new aspirations, centered on protagonists such as women, young people and the unemployed. States of Emergency provides a vivid reconstruction of the events and movements of that period—from the students of 1968 to the Autonomists of 1977.
The now legendary Dialectics of Liberation congress, held in London in 1967, was a unique expression of the politics of dissent. Existential psychiatrists, Marxist intellectuals, anarchists, and political leaders met to discuss key social issues. Edited by David Cooper, The Dialectics of Liberation compiles interventions from congress contributors Stokely Carmichael, Herbert Marcuse, R. D. Laing, Paul Sweezy, and others, to explore the roots of social violence.
Luciana Castellina is one of Italy's most prominent left intellectuals and a cofounder of the newspaper il manifesto. In this coming-of-age memoir, based on her diaries, she recounts her political awakening as a teenage girl in Fascist Italy—where she used to play tennis with Mussolini's daughter—and the subsequent downfall of the regime. Discovery of the World is about war, anti-Semitism, anti-fascism, resistance, the belief in social justice, the craving for experience, travel, political rallies, cinema, French intellectuals and FIAT workers, international diplomacy and friendship.
In response to the American administration’s attempt to isolate Cuba, Fidel Castro delivered a series of speeches designed to radicalize Latin American society. As Latin America experiences more revolutions in Venezuela and Bolivia, and continues to upset America’s plans for neo-liberal imperialism, renowned radical writer and activist Tariq Ali provides a searing analysis of the relevance of Castro’s message for today.
NOT AVAILABLE IN THE US
The Situationist International (SI), led by the revolutionary Guy Debord, were active throughout the 1950s and 60s. They published the journal Internationale Situationniste that included many incendiary texts on politics and art, and were a galvanizing force in the revolutions of May 1968.
Youth, Identity, Power is the classic study of the origins of the 1960s Chicano civil rights movement. Written by a leader of the Chicano student movement who also played a key role in the creation of the wider Chicano Movement, this is the first full-length work to appear on the subject. It fills an important gap in the history of political and social protest in the United States.
Often considered irredeemably conservative, the US working class actually has a rich history of revolt. Rebel Rank and File uncovers the hidden story of insurgency from below against employers and union bureaucrats in the late 1960s and 1970s.
SCUM Manifesto was considered one of the most outrageous, violent and certifiably crazy tracts when it first appeared in 1968. Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, self-published this work just before her rampage against the king of Pop Art made her a household name and resulted in her confinement to a mental institution. But for all its vitriol, it is impossible to dismiss as unhinged. In fact, the work has indisputable prescience, not only as a radical feminist analysis light-years ahead of its timepredicting artificial insemination, ATMs, a feminist uprising against under-representation in the artsbut also as a stunning testament to the rage of an abused and destitute woman.
In this hilarious, moving memoir, much-loved children’s poet and political campaigner Michael Rosen recalls the first twenty-three years of his life. He was born in the North London suburbs, and his parents, Harold and Connie, both teachers, first met as teenage Communists in the Jewish East End of the 1930s. The family home was filled with stories of relatives in London, the United States and France and of those who had disappeared in Europe.
See all of our 1968-related reading and here.
Algiers, Third World Capital: Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers
by Elaine Mokhtefi
OUT IN AUGUST
The Japanese ’68: Theory, Politics, Aesthetics
Edited by Gavin Walker
OUT IN SEPTEMBER